THE CONSTITUTIONAL PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE

THE CONSTITUTIONAL PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE

December 10, 2022 @ 11:22 AM 2 months ago


ACCUSATION does not amount to conviction.

It is a fundamental constitutional guarantee that, in all criminal prosecutions, a person who stands charged of a crime enjoys the presumption of innocence. He is designated as “the accused” precisely because the allegations against him have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

In line with this constitutional imperative, the burden of proof rests upon the prosecution.

Should the prosecution fail to discharge its burden, it follows, as a matter of course, that the accused must be acquitted and set free. “A guilty verdict relies on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence, not on the weakness of the defense.” (People vs. Calleja, June 16, 2021)

Furthermore, it is an elementary principle in criminal law that when the facts and evidence are susceptible to two or more interpretations, one of which consistent with the innocence of the accused, and the other with his guilt, acquittal must ensue. (In that case, the prosecution is regarded to not have hurdled the test of moral certainty required for conviction.)

It bears emphasis that the constitutional presumption of innocence requires the courts to take a more than casual consideration of every circumstance or doubt favoring the innocence of the accused. If there is doubt, that doubt should be resolved in favor of the accused in order to give flesh and bones to this constitutionally-protected right. (Tan vs. People, April 26, 2021)

The overriding consideration in criminal prosecutions is not whether the court doubts the innocence of the accused but whether there is a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Where there is reasonable doubt, presumption of innocence must be favored and the accused must be exonerated as a matter of right, even though his innocence may not have been established. This is a guarantee that no less than the Constitution enshrines. (Mendoza vs. People of the Philippines, November 21, 2018)

However, the presumption can be overthrown if all the elements of the crime charged are deemed present. Surely, Article III, Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution guarantees that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proven. To overcome this presumption, proof beyond reasonable doubt is needed. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such degree of proof as to exclude the possibility of error and produce absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind. (XXX v. People, G.R. No. 243049, October 5, 2020)

Put simply, only when the prosecution has established guilt beyond reasonable doubt shall the constitutional presumption of innocence be overturned.

Basically, a successful prosecution of a criminal action largely depends on proof of two things: the identification of the author of the crime and his actual commission of the same. But an ample proof that a crime has been committed has no use if the prosecution is unable to convincingly prove the offender’s identity. Thus, in one case, it was held that the constitutional presumption of innocence that an accused enjoys is not demolished by an identification that is full of uncertainties. (People vs. Libunao, March 24, 2021)

It should be noted that in the course of its review of criminal cases elevated to it, the Supreme Court still commences its analysis from the fundamental principle that the accused before it is presumed innocent. This presumption continues although the accused had been convicted in the trial court, as long as such conviction is still pending appeal. (People vs. Ansano, December 2, 2020)